A newsmaker you should know: Funfar's teaching style earns accolades

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Michael Funfar is "the sweetest guy with a lot of 'tude!' "

If you don't understand that Internet review of the math teacher, it's OK. As long as his students do, Mr. Funfar is, like, cool.

The high school mathematics teacher in Upper St. Clair School District was recently recognized for his "innovative and passionate" teaching style by Veritas Prep as one of the 40 Most Influential Teachers Under 40 in America. The nominations were sought directly from students from the Malibu, Calif.-based SAT prep provider.

Mr. Funfar was recognized for his creative instructional methodology and commitment to student leadership development, according to Veritas. He also was cited for his dedication to helping students discover the value of mathematics in everyday life and empowering them to take ownership for their learning.

"I am always looking for ways to make mathematics more accessible for my students and to build meaningful real world connections with the material," he said.

Apparently, it's working.

"I really do love Mr. Funfar. He is super sassy but he jokes around with it," the anonymous poster went on to say about Mr. Funfar at www.ratemyteachers.com. "Even when he gets on my nerves about talking during labs, I still get a lot out of his teaching and genuinely think he is the best."

Adolescent accolades aside, Mr. Funfar's colleagues think he's pretty nifty, too.

"Mr. Funfar is a theatrical dynamo in front of the classroom. He makes learning fun and engaging," said Michael Ghilani, high school principal. "Even the most reluctant math student enjoys being in Mr. Funfar's class. He has also had a tremendous impact on our school outside of the classroom in his involvement in various committees including our student mentoring program and leadership academy."

"Beyond the classroom, Mr. Funfar's work with our leadership academy and mentoring program connect him with students in a very significant way," superintendent Patrick O'Toole said. "We are fortunate to have him at Upper St. Clair."

Mr. Funfar, 30, of Castle Shannon, is the son of Bernadette and Frank Funfar and a 2001 Plum High School graduate. He went on to earn a bachelor's degree from Saint Vincent College in mathematics in 2005, and a master's degree in Instructional Leadership from Robert Morris University in 2011.

He was hired by the Upper St. Clair School District in 2007.

His teaching philosophy is simple: "I try to make my lessons as relatable as possible to kids," he said. "I also like to have fun."

To keep his advanced students curious and interested, he plays a different pop music tune every day as they walk into class. The songs relate to the day's lesson.

For example, students were recently greeted by Coldplay's "The Scientist," on a day when the lesson plan included learning about scientific notation.

"Many of us can remember that one teacher who just completely changed the way we looked at the world," said Chad Troutwine, Veritas co-founder and CEO. "As we reviewed the nominations that came in, it was clear that all of these teachers fit that description. We were amazed by the passion that teachers such as Michael exhibit, and we are proud to make him a part of our very first '40 Under 40' list."

Outside the classroom, Mr. Funfar is the teacher representative for what he calls a "cool student mentor program," in which older students are trained how to mentor their younger counterparts to help ease their transition to high school.

"I like being able to see the kids outside of the classroom," Mr. Funfar said. "I like having the opportunity to work with the kids on a different level, not just math."

He is also the facilitator for a summer leadership academy, a weeklong leadership experience for students in multiple phases. Last year, a handful of students completed the program with a trip to Belize.

The leadership academy was recognized as a 2013 National School Board's Association Magna Award winner, "for empowering student leadership at all levels: personal, organizational and global."

For Mr. Funfar, the best reward has been watching his students learn life lessons as well as math.

"The thing that I really enjoy is not just teaching kids mathematics, but helping them grow and develop as people," he said.

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